Buyer persona research should always yield highly useful information for companies. It allows marketers to understand exactly how certain buyer personas make complex buying decisions. With such valuable research in hand, marketers can then go on to create effective messaging that resonates with prospective buyers on a deep level.
To be able to unlock the powerful benefits of buyer persona research, however, marketers first need to ensure that it’s written in a way that their companies can actually use.
Buyer persona research should not be presented as a template that has been filled in with demographic and psychological details. Instead, it should dig deep into buyers’ key motivators, pain points, jobs-to-be-done, the decision making chain, and more. Those are the types of critical insights that companies need to win business.
Beware the Buyer Persona
Unfortunately, buyer personas aren’t always useful. Poor buyer personas result from a focus on easy to obtain information vs. details that matter. Here are a few examples of emphases that ruin what might have been a great buyer persona.
Heavy emphasis on demographic details
Decades ago, advertisers looking to sell to the mass market began to segment out their audiences based on demographic data, such as a person’s age, income, and education. Many marketers, particularly in the B2C field, still rely on defining their audiences this way to effectively target and market to their customers.
However, when applied to B2B buyer personas, demographics can oftentimes be irrelevant, and sometimes even misleading. It typically is of little consequence if an IT buyer is 35 or 45, male or female, or went to a large public university or a small private college. These factors have minimal impact on how they are making buying decisions on cloud services, productivity solutions, and hardware.
Too much detail on psychological profiles
Buying decisions in B2B typically take months or years to come to fruition. In addition, these decisions are driven by committees and not individuals. For both of these reasons it doesn’t make a great deal of sense to develop in-depth psychographic profiles on topics like values, lifestyle choices, social and political opinions and the like. All of these issues tend to become less important as the buying committee may easily contain a wide range of opinions on these subjects.
What matters most is to understand how these individuals collectively make a decision. This includes understanding who is in charge and who is not, who puts on the brakes and who pushes the accelerator, and who is best to avoid in any particular marketing or sales effort.
Buyer persona research should go beyond documenting information that you already know. It’s true that a prospective buyer may belong to popular industry trade groups, read well-known industry publications, go to industry conferences, or use the Internet to search for solutions. However, that does not differentiate this person from most other business professionals who share the same title, focus area, or career trajectory.
Therefore, these kinds of details really won’t provide any value to your company. Buyer persona research should focus instead on discovering new information that helps understand the buying behaviors of target personas.
Catchy buyer titles
Whether it’s a random “John Doe” or an alliterative “Millennial Molly”, giving your prospective buyers names can help to envision a real person. It’s not necessarily a bad thing; however, it shouldn’t take away from the actual research being presented. Coming up with a fun or charming title is fine if that helps you envision your buyer. Just be sure you’re not losing the industry context to allow space for that.
It’s always beneficial when information is presented in a way that is visually appealing and easy for a reader to digest. However, the substance of the actual research should always take precedence over its style. Although we can all appreciate a great design, the insights that are presented should be the most compelling part of your buyer persona research.
Buyer Persona Research That Creates Change
Effective buyer persona research should dig deep in exploring a variety of different areas that affect how prospective buyers make their decisions. The following are some of the specific questions that useful buyer persona research should be able to answer for your company:
How do different buyers on the same team relate to each other?
The size of the decision-making group for B2B sales continues to grow, with an average of between 6 and 10 professionals now involved in a single B2B sales decision. It’s important to be aware not only of who all of the influencers are at the table, but also of how they all interact and relate to one another.
Additionally, each influencer has a role to play and ranks their key buying criteria differently. For example, pricing may be at the top of the list for one buyer. Capabilities may be for another. Integration challenges may be most important for a third. Once you understand who will have which concerns at which times, you’ll be better able to address each one of them.
What does their complete buyer’s journey look like?
The B2B buyer’s journey is a long and complex process. In the typical 3-9 month sales cycle, it’s likely your potential customers are directly interacting with your sales team for only a small portion of that time. It’s important to understand what potential buyers are doing in the rest of that time.
First, what are all the steps a buyer may take to get educated? What is every step they take thereafter until they decide to reach out to a vendor? Once they’ve contacted vendors, how do they evaluate their options until they eventually settle on a final choice?
These are the types of questions that thorough buyer persona research will be able to explore. Once you have the answers, you can deliver tailored messaging that targets the right buyer personas at the right time.
What are the specific technology needs of your buyer personas?
In order to earn the trust of a potential buyer, you need to be able to speak their language by using the same industry-related terminology that they do. In the B2B technology context, this should include something more specific than that your potential buyer is “looking to integrate machine learning.” You need to fully understand in what ways, with what specific technologies, for what LoB needs, and more. These details can only come from first conducting buyer persona research that uncovers your potential buyer’s specific technology needs.
What are the features that each buyer cares about?
Excitedly sharing a new feature of your product with potential buyers can be a winning strategy — but only if it’s solving a specific problem that they face. If it’s not, you’ll be emphasizing an aspect of your solution that has no effect on their motivation to buy.
In order to discover what matters most to your buyers, you first must understand the challenges they face day-to-day. This is best observed through objective in-depth research. Once those specific challenges have been established, then you can lead with messaging that will best resonate.
What’s holding buyers back?
Almost all prospective buyers will be holding on to something that deters them from considering a solution like yours. They may have a negative perception of your company or product. Or, maybe they’ve had a bad past experience with a similar company. There could be something else that’s left them with an internal resistance to them acquiring the solution you’re offering. Once you know what those potential barriers are, you can address them head-on and dispel any hesitancies on their end.
Take Out Your Scissors And See What’s Left
The next time you look at the buyer personas your company has on hand, try this exercise. Take out a pair of scissors and cut out all the fluff. What’s left? If all you’re left holding is a tattered piece of paper, it’s time to start building buyer personas that matter.
Ask yourself: Who did this research? Was it an expert? Was it someone who understands my market, my customers, my products? If not, it’s no wonder your scissors got so dull from all that cutting.
Next time, save your scissors and give us a call instead. We have the context, the expertise, and the team to help you build great buyer personas.
With more than 15 years of experience in the B2B technology sector, Cascade Insights understands how to build buyer persona research that informs effective marketing. Learn more about our buyer persona research here. For more information on all types of B2B market research, visit What is B2B Market Research.
Special thanks to Sean Campbell, CEO, and Philippe Boutros, Chief of Staff, for advising on this piece.